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Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Help You Think and Feel Better

There has been a growing body of evidence that looks at how food can affect our mood. Several behavioural studies have shown that dietary choices can have a significant impact on children with ADHD, resulting in negative behaviour. Parents have been advised to limit additives and, in particular, certain E-numbers due to the consequences on their child’s health.

But, food doesn’t just impact children’s behaviour. Food plays a significant role in our health and wellness long into adulthood. We need food to sustain us, but we need to eat the right types of food. Wholesome carbs and healthy protein provide vitality to adult bodies. Women, in particular, need to look at their food sources to ensure that they consume enough iron, Omega 3s and folic acid (before pregnancy). Nutrient deficiencies have been linked to fatigue, PMS, and depression.

Food and Mood

There has been ongoing evidence to suggest that food influences our mood. Positive psychology, a branch of psychology, has utilised this research, and argued that positive lifestyle choices focus on embracing the wholistic, including food and exercise choices. In trials evaluating the effectiveness of exercise on psychological wellbeing, exercise has shown to have the same impact as anti-depressants. Exercise switched the ‘game on’ mode of our brain. It is linked to enhanced positive emotions, self-efficacy, and productivity. The brain releases endorphins and your level of protein called Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) also become more concentrated. BDNF release chemicals that promote brain health and muscle tissue and activate the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, alleviating depression and anxiety. Micronutrients such as magnesium have also shown to have an impact on stress levels, and there have been a number of studies on the use of herbal L 5-hydroxytryptophan (5 HTP) in increasing serotonin levels. The amino acid, tryptophan, has also been linked to comparable results, hence, the term ‘a banana a day keeps the psychiatrist away!’

Food most certainly influences our mood. We are what we eat. If you have ever demolished that greasy hamburger or a kebab after a night out, you will have noticed that lethargic feeling that comes upon you. Food can make you feel lazy. It can increase feelings of tiredness. Foods rich in the vitamins and minerals calcium, chromium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B16, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and Zinc are known for their happiness-boosting qualities. We should aim to eat more of these!

How Food Effects Your Mood

Neurotransmitters are the vehicles used to transport information between neurons and other cells. Serotonin and dopamine are the two most important neurotransmitters responsible for mood regulation and these communication vehicles are made from amino acids, which come from the protein we eat.

Since our good mood regulators (i.e. the two neurotransmitters mentioned earlier) come from amino acids, one might think that it is good to eat lots of protein. However, this is not entirely true. Eating too much protein in one go is not the way forward. The various types of amino acids compete with each other meaning that the brain finds it confusing to process this.

There are several tips to optimising brain functioning for positive wellbeing:

Frequent meals: Eat lighter and more frequent meals to avoid too much processing. Overeating means the body uses precious energy processing the food.

Complex Carbs: Wholegrains, oats, brown rice and so forth provide the body with energy to help it function optimally.

Protein: Include moderate amounts of protein at every meal (including snacks). These include, meat, poultry, eggs, beans, dairy, nuts, and so forth.

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables- the more colourful the better.

Food is fuel. Without it we cannot survive. If we eat a restricted diet, our emotional health suffers. It’s important to eat as wide a variety of nutritional goods as possible for optimal wellbeing.

What you eat directly impacts the structure and the function of the brain. When your brain gets premium fuel, it functions optimally. Processed or refined foods effect our moods negatively, meaning we feel sluggish and incapable of performing our tasks optimally. Refined sugars in excess can be harmful to the brain, causing the body to be fired up, followed by crashing down. They can also worsen symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.

The medical field did not value the link between food and mood for many years. It is only recently, ironically, that they have been enlightened to this notion. It goes without saying that food would impact our wellbeing. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep and appetite, mediates mood, and inhibits pain, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. The digestive system doesn’t just process and digest food, but it also helps guide our emotions.

The production of neurotransmitters like serotonin are influenced by the billions of ‘good’ bacteria that make up the intestinal microbiome, and these are essential for your health. They protect the lining of the intestines, provide a barrier against toxins and ‘bad’ bacteria, and they reduce and limit inflammation. They also improve how well you absorb nutrients from food and activate the neural pathways between the gut and brain. The nerves in your gut actually communicates directly with your brain. Because of this, upping your gut friendly bacteria is vital to optimal wellbeing.

Good bacteria are found in probiotics such as natural yoghurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut, for instance. Fermented diets are said to act as natural probiotics. Those that eat a traditional Mediterranean or Japanese diet are said to have less chance of developing depression. The risk of depression is 25-35% lower.

It is important to start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel. Listen to your body. How does it feel after you have eaten those foods? How does it feel the next day? Try eating a clean diet, low in processed foods, for a couple of weeks. Up your intake of probiotic friendly foods such as kimcha, natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha and see how you feel. Keep a diary and see how these changes make you feel?

Not only does food impact on our mood, but also mood impacts on the choice of food we choose to eat. For instance, we are more likely to choose chocolate over fruit if we are feeling low.

Finally, prolonged aerobic exercise improves brain function and protects again cognitive decline.

Mental Illness and Diet

Recent studies have found a link between an unhealthy diet and mental ill health. Bad diets are therefore a risk factor in depression and anxiety. Emotional dysregulation in children is also a problem for children with bad diets. As mentioned previously, the research found that those that eat a high fibre, nutritionally varied diet, are happier and fight depression better than those that do not have a good diet. This is also, of course, linked to socio-economic factors- those that can afford to eat better, will feel better. Education is key too- many people have limited knowledge of the power of food on mood, and therefore continue their cycle of negative eating with bad consequences. Dr. Felice Jacka of Deakin University found that unhealthy food components affect the hippocampus in the brain and this is involved in mood regulation.

Originally published in Kafui Fitness: 


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